NEPCA will meet on the campus of Providence College in Providence, RI October 24-25, 2014.
For conference information, click on the FALL CONFERENCE tab above. This will take you to a page where you find all the materials you need. Scroll down to “How Do I Submit a Proposal?”
The following decisions were made at NEPCA’s Executive Council meeting on October 25, 2013.
1. The Council voted to hold the 2014 meeting at Providence College. Bob Hackey will serve as program chair for the conference.
2. Tim Madigan was thanked for his service as NEPCA president. He now becomes a one-year member of the Council as past-president. Jennifer Tebbe-Grossman was unanimously acclaimed at president for 2013-14.
3. Lance Eaton and Virginia Cowen were elected to new three-year terms on the Council. Carol-Ann Farkas finished her term on the Council. Robert Niemi was elected as a new Council member (three-year term).
4. The Council voted to reduce the Rollins Book Prize Committee from three to five members in hopes of attracting more entries. Virginia Cowen will chair the new committee.
5. Rob Weir reported that the treasury and membership rolls are both quite healthy at present.
6. There was general consensus that the current system of posting conference papers on the St. John Fisher Digital Commons is time-consuming and that the costs of hiring someone to do this would likely be prohibitive. Lance Eaton, Virginia Cowen, Tim Madigan, and Jennifer Tebbe-Grossman were empowered to begin a discussion of alternatives. The current thought is that a tool such as Google Forms may be appropriate for uploading paper abstracts.
7. There was strong sentiment that future conferences should have just one program chair, not two, in order to streamline the process. Rob Weir was asked to update the Website on this matter.
The following items were discussed and are now open for general membership feedback. Direct all feedback to Executive Secretary Rob Weir: email@example.com
1. NEPCA has a preliminary offer for hosting the 2016 conference. There is, as yet, no offer for 2015. This is a high priority. Please contact Rob if you’d like to host.
2. Jennifer Tebbe-Grossman brought up the idea of reserving one Council slot for a graduate student, a practice followed by the national PCAACA. No decision was rendered, as bylaws would need to be amended to do this. There was also some feeling that it may not be needed as NEPCA Council membership is open to all and it has, in the past, already had graduate student members.
3. Rob Weir was asked to pursue whether PayPal would be a good conference option. Attempts to use another vendor resulted in a systems crash.
4. Several area chair positions are open and/or inactive. If you’d like to serve as an area chair, please contact Rob Weir. We currently need an area chair for Humor.
5. Rob Weir brought up the idea of creating an advisory board of NEPCA ex-presidents that would caucus with the Executive Council. Ex-presidents who wished would automatically serve on this board, but not the Executive Council. The goal would be to involve more of the general membership directly, yet retain the expertise of those who have served in the past. Such a change would require a vote to amend the bylaws. This matter is now open for commentary. Direct your comments to Rob: firstname.lastname@example.org
Popular Culture in American History (2nd edition). By Jim Cullen, ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2013; Popular Culture: A User’s Guide (2nd edition). By Susie O’Brien and Imre Szeman. Nelson Education, 2010; Discovering Popular Culture. By Anna Tomasino, Pearson/Longman, 2006; With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830. By Leroy Ashby. University Press of Kentucky, 2012.
Balancing theory, historical context, and theory makes finding the right text for a popular culture course a supreme challenge. Some books offer all theory; others give the straight history (whatever that means). In various renderings of the popular course that I have taught over the last five years, I have tried no less than five different texts with various successes (and failures). This review looks at several different texts that may be useful for teaching a popular culture course.
There are a few things to note about my course that give context to the choices and critiques that follow. The course was originally designed as “Popular Culture and Media,” essentially blending popular culture and media studies. The content proved too much and the course was changed to “Popular Culture in the U.S.” This switch deemphasized media studies (though it still discusses media) and focused particularly on the United States. The course is structured to provide history, theory, and analysis of popular culture through different readings, videos, and activities while moving chronologically forward into the present. My goal with the course is for students to come through it with a skill set that allows them to tinker under the hood of any element of popular culture they may encounter with a critical evaluative approach, but a nonjudgmental one. I developed and launched the course at North Shore Community College in Spring 2009 and taught it face-to-face until 2011. In 2012, I redeveloped it as an online course.
Since teaching online, I have been consistently using Jim Cullen’s Popular Culture in American History, which is an overall solid text. Each chapter is broken up into five sections: timeline, a short contextual introduction, an academic article (usually a book chapter), a primary source, and a set of critical questions. Each chapter moves forward chronologically so that the book is collection of case studies from past to present. In this sense, it’s not a coherent history for students in that there are lots of gaps. Rather, students gain access to different periods of popular culture and exposure to how it can be studied and discussed.
In the first edition, Cullen included chapters on chapbooks, dancehalls, and spatial dynamics of rap videos. In 2013, the book released its second edition, which is, alas, inferior to the first. Though two new chapters proved useful and insightful (the chapbook chapter was replaced with a chapter on the penny press and the dancehall chapter with a chapter on movie Westerns), but the final three chapters (all new) are less useful and seem to fall far from the quality that the rest of the book maintains. These chapters include a chapter on reality television, rappers, and blogging.
These articles lack the objective approach seen in previous chapters. The article on rappers (“Just Keeping It Real” by Tricia Rose) probably does the best of the three by exploring the use of the term “just keeping it real” as a defensive term for justifying a variety of challenging views within hip-hop community, while simultaneously creating problems about perceptions of the hip-hop community. Coupled with an article that dismisses reality television as sexist (“Reality Bites” by Susan J. Douglas) and an article that disregards the potential of blogging and social media (“The Emperor’s New Modem” by Lee Siegel), the three operate as more of an elitist condemnation of popular culture than as studies of the power of popular culture and the ways in which people find meaning and identity. For instance, Siegel echoes Matthew Arnold (Culture and Anarchy) with lines like, “Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.”
Susan O’Brien and Imre Szeman’s Popular Culture: A User’s Guide, Second Edition––a third edition has just been released, but I have not yet had an opportunity to review it––is a robust book as an introductory text to popular culture. It’s a comprehensive textbook that balances history, theory, and analysis quite well. Chapters cover different facets of popular culture (history, representation, production, consumption, the body, identity, space and more). Each chapter is then broken down into subsections, images, charts, contextual asides, text excerpts, activity challenges etc. in typical textbook fashion. The book has a very useful and comprehensive glossary that may be invaluable for students. Additionally, the first chapter, “Introducing Popular Culture” is a fantastic read for anyone trying to get a grip on popular culture. Besides providing a clear and concise overview of popular culture, the authors provide a case study of coffee and the ways in which it operates as part of popular culture. The book isn’t overwhelming, but does provide a comprehensive approach to popular culture.
Though the book is strong in these ways, it still suffers the shortcomings of being a textbook. In size and shape, it is clearly a textbook and students tend to find fault with that fact alone, especially when it applies to a course carrying the “fun” expectations of popular culture. Textbooks, to no one’s surprise, are not sexy. Added to this is the price tag, which for the physical book comes in at two or three times the cost of any one of the other books. The e-book is cheaper than its physical counterpart, but it’s pricier than the other books herein.
Anna Tomasino’s Discovering Popular Culture offers a third and different approach than the previous two. It features a thematic chapters centered on a set of writings from different authors. Each chapter has an introductory essay by Tomasino to set up the ideas about the theme as well as to provide pre-reading questions. Each essay has a brief introduction along with a specific pre-reading question geared towards that reading, the essay, and then follow-up questions. The chapters cover a good range of popular culture including chapters on the American identity, gender, family, race, education, and consumerism.
In contrast to the previous two books, this one packs less impact. The essays are often selections from within popular culture, which can be useful, but also limiting in that they don’t always provide the tools or examples of ways of diving deeper into the nuanced elements of popular culture. For instance, the chapter on gender has good readings from popular culture ––including one from Barbara Ehrenreich–– but never provides a strong discussion of gender that’s grounded in historical context and cultural analysis. As a course reader, it fits more as a source for a composition course that focuses or uses popular culture, and much less on a course specifically for studying popular culture.
The final text is one that I’ve not actually used yet, but having read it has me wondering if I should. Leroy Ashby’s With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture since 1830 is a comprehensive text insofar as histories of popular culture go. It comes at nearly 650 pages, however, the content stops around page 517; the rest is footnotes, bibliography, and index. More importantly, despite a long and detailed history, the prose is accessible and interesting. This happens in part because readers are never too far from some exciting event, and Ashby’s style of writing coupled often with good quotes from primary sources make for an enjoyable frolic through pop culture history. Readers walk away with a profound sense of the different historical, cultural, and economic forces at play in what creates, maintains, and changes popular culture. A paperback edition was recently released that includes a new introduction that integrates the changes and dynamics of popular culture since the hardcover that was published in 2006. Additionally, among the books listed here, this is the only one to have been published also as an audiobook (on Audible.com), which some may also find useful to use in the classroom.
Where the book falls short is its approach. It’s historically focused, so those looking to extrapolate theory and analysis might not find it particularly useful. Like Cullen’s text, its focus is on the United States. The book can also be a bit intimidating in its size and bulk. Also, unlike the other texts mentioned here, the audience is not necessarily students, therefore some of those extras such as guiding questions and activities are missing. I am still considering it since I have created much of the other material that the book lacks and it seems to have a clearer direction than Cullen’s episodic approach. It’s cheaper than the O’Brien and Szeman text, and much more substantial than Tomasino’s. Of course, if the other books are any indication of my experience, I’m likely to use it and then find all the faults with it based upon how my students do with it.
North Shore Community College
See also Lance’s blog: http://byanyothernerd.blogspot.com
The International Journal of Motorcycle Studies (IJMS), the only online, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to motorcycle culture, will be hosting its conference at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, JULY 17-19, 2014. IJMS is dedicated to the study and discussion of motorcycling culture in all its forms—from the experience of riding and racing to the history of the machine, the riders and design to the images of motorcycling and motorcyclists in film, advertising and literature.
We welcome submissions on all areas related to the cultural phenomenon of motorcycling worldwide. We invite contributions from all members of the motorcycling community. In addition to traditional academic paper presentations, we encourage submissions using alternate forms, such as photographic exhibitions or multimedia presentations.
Please respond to Lisa Garber: email@example.com with a biographical statement and an abstract of 150 words by MARCH 1, 2014.
I don’t want a pickle/Just want to ride on my motorcycle–Arlo Guthrie
Utopian Studies, the interdisciplinary journal of the Society for Utopian Studies, seeks essays for a special issue on utopian foodways, broadly conceived. Essays which employ or revise theories of utopia and/or food practices of the last decade are especially welcome.
Topics might include, but are not limited to:
• Food in intentional communities: production, preparation, consumption, clean up, and/or disposal
• Food practices in literary works
• Food author studies (e.g. Michael Pollan, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver)
• School gardens
• Food and waste: alternative production, consumption, and/or disposal
• Urban food production: allotments, rooftop gardens, aviary and apiary practices
• Utopian/dystopian diets: whole foods, slow foods, raw foods, supplements, GMOs, heirlooms
• NGOs and global food concerns
Essays should be no more than 7000 words, inclusive of citations according to Chicago Manual of Style, and submitted by April 30, 2014, to each of the special issue editors: Etta Madden, Professor of English, Missouri State University, firstname.lastname@example.org; Timothy Miller, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Kansas, email@example.com; and Lyman Tower Sargent, Professor Emeritus, University of Missouri, St. Louis, firstname.lastname@example.org
THE JOURNAL OF AMERICAN STUDIES OF TURKEY www.asat-jast.org, a biannual journal established in 1995, publishes cutting-edge articles in various aspects of American and comparative studies. Recent issues can be accessed on the website by logging in using the user name L_Raw, password 12345, then going to Jast/Issues.
The Journal publishes full-length articles (5000-7000 words), as well as shorter “think-pieces” focusing on various aspects of American Studies, and how “America” is represented in various cultural products. The JAST is currently seeking ”think-pieces” focusing in particular on why films focusing on similar subject-matter such as THE BUTLER and 12 YEARS A SLAVE have been released at this particular period in time, how they have been received in different parts of the world, and whether the films themselves have something to tell us about the ways in which issues of “race” in American history are perceived at this particular point in time. We’d also be interested in pieces that contrast such representations with films of similar subject-matter such as MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM. These films are only offered as examples. In keeping with the Journal’s cross-cultural remit, we’d be particularly interested in pieces that discuss the ways in which such films were consumed in different territories – either through reviews or through online reactions.
Such pieces would ideally be of 1500-3000 words in length. Please email me if you have any questions. Deadline would be 30 April 2014. For details see: http://baskent.academia.edu/LaurenceRaw
2014-15 LE GUIN FEMINIST SCIENCE FICTION FELLOWSHIPS are now being accepted. The deadline is: September 5, 2014 – 5:00 pm. Fellowships are sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women in Society, Robert D. Clark Honors College, and University of Oregon Libraries Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA). LeGuin Fellows will study at the University of Ordegon.
Detroit: An American Autopsy. By Charlie LeDuff. Penguin, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-14312446-7.
Charlie LeDuff’s portrait of Detroit is horrifying and uncompromising. It’s guys who take $20 and the promise of a truck to torch a house, of street walkers turning tricks inside of derelict auto factories, of fried corpses hanging from the live wires they tried to strip for copper, of a dead man chucked down a shaft and frozen in a block of ice, of police cars without radios, and fire fighters with holes in their boots. Forget Motor City; it’s Murder City USA. The auto plants are mostly gone and the few jobs that remain pay $14 an hour, which adjusted for inflation, “…is three cents less than what Henry Ford was paying in 1914 when he announced the $5 day. And, of course, Ford isn’t hiring.”(6)
Who would want to live there, let alone do what LeDuff did: walk away from the New York Times to write a book, move from the warmth of Los Angeles to Michigan in the dead of winter, and take a job with the Detroit News? It might be home, but Detroit? After all, Le Duff’s book is subtitled An American Autopsy. There’s no money to be made in Detroit, unless you’re a politician like Kwame Fitzpatrick, who is doing 28 years when instead of being the city’s first self-proclaimed hip-hop mayor he became a crook with a penchant for phone sex, strippers, and skimming the city’s shallow public trough–just like his predecessors. Or Michelle Conyers, the 47-year-old wife of 84-year-old U.S. Congressman John Conyers, who did 27 months for bribery and kickbacks during her eight months as president of the Detroit City Council. Or white auto executives who took taxpayer bailout money and invested it elsewhere.
LeDuff’s story is heartbreaking. Detroit is where his prostitute sister died when she leapt from a car driven by a dangerous john, where his niece overdosed on heroin, and where a fire fighter buddy died in a blaze started by a street punk hired by a shady landlord that wanted to collect insurance money. It’s a city in which children must bring their own toilet paper to school, arson is as common as a snowy winter day, and a guy who threatens to mug you for a dollar can be bought off for fifty cents. Along the way we meet people trying their best to scrape by with wallets, integrity, and pride intact, and several that LeDuff’s investigative journalism manages to help. Some have called him a Good Samaritan, but LeDuff’s having none of it. “Why not admit it? I’m a reporter. A leech. A merchant of misery. Bad things are good for us reporters. ” (19) A very good reporter, I hasten to add–one whose gonzo journalism is eminently more vivid and readable than anything coming from academia. His socially conscious writing rivals that of Jonathan Kozol and Alex Kotlowitz.
LeDuff chronicles the city’s birth as a beaver-trading post in 1701, through its salad days as the world’s automobile capital, and into a long decline marked by race riots, deindustrialization, appalling corporate stupidity, union greed, and denial. LeDuff has no time for the latter. His gritty stories sparked numerous complaints from city boosters demanding to know why he never wrote of “lawyers and doctors and auto executives with nice homes and good jobs and community elders trying to make things better, teachers who spend their own money on the classroom… parents who raise their children, ministers who help with funeral expenses.” LeDuff tartly retorts, “[T]hese things are not supposed to be news. These things are supposed to be normal. And when normal things become the news, the abnormal becomes the norm. And when that happens, you might as well put a fork in it.” (129) Indeed. Nearly 2 million once called Detroit home; now fewer than 700,000 do so.
LeDuff doesn’t want us to mourn for Detroit. He wants us to look at it deeply–as if we’re looking into a mirror, because he thinks it is a mirror: “Detroit can no longer be ignored because what happened here is happening out there. Neighborhoods from Phoenix to Los Angeles to Miami are blighted with empty houses and people with idle hands. Americans are swimming in debt, and the prospects of servicing the debt grow slimmer by the day as good-paying jobs continue to evaporate or relocate to foreign lands.” (5)
LeDuff tries to end his book on a high note but the book does feel like an autopsy. Is there any hope? LeDuff sees America in decaying Detroit, but it may just be industrial America that’s on its deathbed. Salem, Massachusetts was once the capital of maritime America; Buffalo, New York that of the canal boat trade; Wichita, Kansas the queen city of the cattle drive; and Sacramento where gold mine fever raged hottest. Maybe we need to admit that Redmond, Washington now matters more than Detroit. Or, maybe, LeDuff is right. We’d better hope he’s not.
Robert E. Weir, Ph.D.
University of Massachusetts Amherst